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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Backyard Gems

Today I headed southwest again, more south than west actually, zig-zagging my way out into the countryside and hoping I was taking all the right turns to get me to Route 66. Initially, I had planned to get up early and make my way to Lincoln, which is almost 33 miles exactly from my doorstep. I fell back to my old ways, though, and succumbed to sleep when I should have gotten up. I slept an hour past when I wanted to start out, so instead of doing the roundtrip ride which would have given me 66 miles on Route 66, I did 33 miles which included the new bike path running alongside Route 66 to the teeny-tiny town of Shirley. From there, I actually had to ride on the road, but traffic was light, and motorists were very considerate, moving over to make space between us.

I've now lived in this area for 12 years, but until today, I've never been to a local attraction located just off Route 66. This place is known for its nature preserve, its chapel where lots of summer weddings take place, and the maple sirup (yes, that's how it's spelled here). My kids have been there for school trips and talked about how beautiful the grounds are, so today I made my way to this historic place. The roads leading to the entrances were shaded by the dense growth of trees on both sides. I enjoyed the cool of the shade after being in the sun for most of the ride at that point. With no traffic, the only noise was the whir of my tires on the pavement and the calls from the birds in the woods. I thought yesterday's ride was relaxing, but this stretch of road was even more so. Peaceful.

I love the reflection of the barn
I reached the entrance to the chapel and rode the circle drive through the cemetery, stopping long enough to read some of the headstones, to wonder what the people who lay beneath might have been like. One headstone had several names on it, names of a couples' infant children. How sad must this couple have been to lose their children? Off to one side of the cemetery I saw a special monument dedicated to the Irish who settled in the area, who came here with nothing and worked, sometimes died, to lay the tracks of the Chicago and Alton Railroad through central Illinois. At the end of the drive, I found a large, old cedar tree with a wooden bench nestled against its trunk, the dense cedar branches shading the bench from the mid-morning sun. I sat for a minute.

Now I look  forward to returning to this quiet, peaceful place I've always known about but never visited until today. It truly is a gem in my own backyard, and I'm pretty sure there are many others just waiting for me to find them.

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